The legend of Luypa Sin
MemoryScreen #3 Luy-Pa Sin from MemoryScreen on Vimeo.
As much as we all love saying “skateboarding doesn’t owe anyone anything”, I can’t help but feel like some iconic pros should just be paid to look cool on their skateboards until they’re too old to push. Especially when you look at how much companies spend on elevating the new trending kid to that status. It seems like it’s going to be the case for Gino and in our eyes it should have been the case for Luypa. This interview explores how being your favourite skater’s favourite skater sometimes isn’t enough for things to work out in this industry. Here’s to another 10 years of incredible Luypa footage regardless!
Can you tell us a little bit about where you started skating?
I started skating with my homies from Blois, a small city two hours away from Paris. We had this incredible spot that was an emptied out paddling pool, kind of like the Eiffel Tower pond spot with loads of curbs, banks and little steep quarters. It was called “La Pataugeoire”. This was back in the big pants, small wheels days… I remember in the suburbs people were freaked out by the way we’d dress. Skateboarding was definitely more marginal back then…
After that I started spending more time in Paris until I eventually moved there when I got kicked out of school and I got sponsored by Street Machine (maybe the best skate shop in Paris at this time).
Did you finish college?
Well I got 9,8/20 at my Baccalaureat (final exam in France) the first year I tried to pass it. I was super pissed off and wanted to give it another shot the year after but I was skating a lot, going to contests and on trips to the States so I got kicked out.
Around that time I was also going to Lyon a lot to film with French Fred and skate with JB and his mates. Hotel De Ville was brand new at the time, it was incredible… I even filmed a sponsor me with Fred around then, you guys should hit him up to see if he still has it!
So how old were you the first time you went to the States?
I guess I started going there when I was 16… The first time I went to San Francisco it was with my mate Charlie whose mum worked for Air France and had a cheap ticket. We had a friend called Marco (Elephant Print) who was already out there staying in Oakland. I worked at Street Machine to get money for the ticket. I was so stoked to be going to San Francisco! It was a year before JB made it out there for the first time.
Seeing and skating EMB, Wallenberg and Union Square (at night) was so sick. Plus it was the year Girl skateboards started, so all those guys would be at EMB with blank boards. The whole thing about them leaving their sponsors to start Girl was just an SF rumour at the time so it was super exciting. Seeing the best skaters in the world, guys you usually see in videos, guys like Carroll or Koston in person was so motivating. After that I kept going back, the first time with two other mates and then usually to link up with JB.
For how long would you stay out there?
Three months at a time. That’s the longest you can stay if you don’t have a visa and I never got one. Sometimes in winter I’d go out there for three months, come back to Paris for a couple of weeks and fly straight back out there again.
Plus San francisco was kind of like Barcelona back then, skaters from around the world would be out there skating EMB and later Pier 7. I even remember meeting Henning Bratten down there! Loads of English skaters would always be about too.
Would you skate with any of the locals over there?
Yeah of course. Just the first year I met Lavar and Marcus (McBride), Karl Watson and Drake Jones. Oh yeah and Jim Thiebaud as well. I bumped into him at when I was skating Wallenberg and he gave me some boards. I was stoked!
What did your parents think about you going on all these trips at such a young age?
Well the first time they were fine with it because I was going with my friend Charlie that was 18. The next couple of times it was okay as I’d go for less than three months but after that it was always for three months and they weren’t too happy with that. My parents come from an Asian culture where life should come down to “go to school, study hard and get a job as soon as you finish”, which is pretty much the opposite of how I was planning on living my life… Anyway I got into some massive arguments with them about these trips and skateboarding in general and I ended up getting kicked out of my house. One time I went to pay my parents a visit after a trip (this was before I had my studio in Paris) and when my dad opened the door he refused to let me in, telling me I was no longer allowed to live there. It was pretty tough… I ended up staying in Paris at friends’ houses and travelling. My ex-girlfriend and my mates really helped me out then…
Where would you stay when you’d go out to SF?
At first at a friends’ who was studying out there, then with JB at Brad Johnson’s where Lee Smith and Henry Sanchez were also living.
Were you guys always on filming missions out there?
Yeah I guess… Although in SF we never managed to get our hands on a lot of the footage. Most of it just got lost… Filming was very different at the time without the internet or these crazy phones we have now: it was all on VHS tapes. If I had smart phone back then we’d have tons of footage, we were out skating everyday, enjoying EMB and Union Square, but times were different.
I remember watching Lavar warm up at Pier 7 (he had to shoot an Elwood ad at Hubba Hideout) and he’d do every single trick first try. He’d destroy Pier 7 in about 10 minutes, he was a machine. If only I had a smartphone back then…
Who were you getting boards from at that point?
I was getting flowed from Deluxe. I think every year I’d go to Frisco Jim Thiebaud would hook me up even though I was just flow. I’ll always be grateful… Then one day when I was skating Pier 7, Karl Watson came up to me and said that Mark Gonzales, Phelps and Mickey Reyes were in a car and wanted me to come over. I already knew Mark from when he’d been travelling to Lyon and Paris. In fact once at Hotel De Ville he even hooked me up with a board and some wheels. I was so stoked… So anyway I knew him but didn’t know the other two. I came over to their Cadillac and they told me that from now on I could start coming to Deluxe to pick up product regularly.
You know that clip of Diego Bucchceri backside 180ing Wallenberg? I was there that day! That was just before Diego and me went to pick up boards from Deluxe (he was flow for Deluxe as well). I even met Bob Burnquist over there once haha. Really nice guy! He’d sometimes drive us to skateparks in the San Francisco area when it was raining… Anyway I remember going there every couple of weeks and taking tons of Real boards, Thunders and Spitfires… I didn’t have a credit card back then so I needed cash to survive and selling product was how I’d get by. You could eat for about four or five dollars back then so it worked out alright for a bit. At one point I did have to get my ex-girlfriend to send me some cash via travellers cheques though.
And when did you start going to LA?
JB got in contact with me when he was in LA and I was in SF and said: “you need to send me that sponsor me tape French Fred made! There was no internet or cell phones so it must have been bit of a mission for him to get a hold of me on a home phone. Jeff Hartsel is starting a board company with World Industries and they’re interested. It’s called Shaolin.” Anyway soon after that Jeff Hartsel calls me up and offers to buy me a ticket to LA where he’ll put me up, bring me to the World Industries warehouse and take me to all the spots. World, 101 and Blind were the coolest shit out at the time so I took him up on the offer and went out there for a week. Problem is that when I came back to SF I bumped into Greg Hunt on a tram (he rode for Deluxe at the time) and I was carrying a massive World package… He must have told them because the next day I had Mickey Reyes leaving loads angry voicemails on my home phone, telling me to call him back ASAP. I got scared and never called back…
After that I came back to Paris and kept getting Shaolin boards through the French distributor for about a year and then that fizzled away. I remember Shaolin ads were sick!
What did you do for boards after that?
For a while World Industries would send boards to Paris and when I went back to LA I think Dwindle started hooking me up but nothing proper. It wasn’t a proper deal or anything though… After that I met Julio De La Cruz who put me on Neighborhood with Dani Lebron, Jesus and Alphonso Fernandez, JP Jadeed and Chris Franzen. I got on just as they were finishing up their first video, which meant I couldn’t get much footage for it but apart from that it was really good while it lasted. We had a tight crew and I was getting paid like 700 dollars a month when the dollar was very strong.
Did they get you a visa to stay out there during that period?
No. Neither JB nor I ever got a visa paid for by a sponsor. JB even ended up outstaying the three month period at one point and getting banned from the States…
The Lordz period came soon after that right? What happened there? It seemed like the brand was doing really well, organising trips to China, LA etc., then it completely disappeared.
It was doing really well! I mean obviously for the really expensive trips like the ones you just mentioned they got other sponsors to chip in but yeah, for a wheel company they were really killing it. They did make two full length videos…
What happened then?
To be honest the dude who was running the company always seemed sketchy. At the beginning he was cool but there was something about him that made me feel like I should be careful. Towards the end he’d get into fights almost every time he’d drink. JB and I always said the whole thing was a ticking time bomb. Anyway at some point during the filming of They Don’t Give A Fuck About Us they rented a flat in Barcelona for two or three months so we could all get stuff out there. I only stayed for a week because I’d planned to go to Australia but by the time got back it had all kicked off. Apparently Somnuck (Stephen Teng, the guy running the company) had started on some dude at a party for accidentally dropping wine on his shoes. The guy lost his shit and smashed the glass in Somnuck’s face, leaving him with huge scars all over one side of it. He still has them to this day, it’s gnarly… Problem was, the dude who did it was mates with a lot of the Parisian skaters, including some of the guys on the team. So the Lordz guys then started threatening to cut people’s pay unless they gave up the dude’s name. That’s when it all went to shit. They fired the TM that we were all really good friends with to hire someone that knew nothing about skating. Basically they then stopped making wheels to make really crap clothes and shortly after that it was done.
Oh yeah one thing that I forgot to mention was that when they started the brand and asked us to ride for them the deal was that all the riders would get shares of the company. Stéphane Larance and myself organised a few meetings and did everything we could to get them to follow through with it but it never happened. Which really sucks because LORDZ definitely made a shitload of money…
Of course! Remember when shell-pants where popular the first time around? Everyone was rocking the LORDZ ones: they were half the price of the Girl ones but just as good. Not sure what the guy did with the money though, probably set up a business in China or something…
Wow I had no idea it went down like that… Didn’t it end quite badly with Nomad as well?
Yeah but that was completely different, they really fucked some of us over. Paco and Simon who filmed most of my part for their video didn’t get a cent for all the footage they contributed. In fact they didn’t even get a package or a single board… Nothing.
They were also really bad at paying me and it got to the point where they owed me 6/7 months of salary. They kept telling me the money was coming but it wasn’t. Meanwhile they were still selling boards with my name on it and I was still listed as one of the “pros” on their site. In fact towards the end of that period they even asked me for an ad that I went out and shot. Then I got kicked off and never got the money. I considered taking them to court because it amounted to over 3000 euros but the lawyer I got in contact with explained that it wouldn’t be worth it for me as it would cost me almost as much in legal fees.
That’s fucked. The company is still around as well right? And they still owe you all that money to this day?
Yep. And they did the exact same thing to Raul Navarro, Petr Horvat and Honza Minol. Dani Lebron and Jesus quit before any of this went down…
How were you getting by that point?
Well I was still getting a bit of money from Nike…
What about Volcom?
Aha that’s another good one. When I rode for Volcom the team manager was a guy called Féfé (Fred De Cannes). He’s the basically the guy who set up Volcom in Europe. He built a great team and was going a really good job at the beginning. He’d organise sick trips to Spain, Prague, Portugal, France, England… All around Europe basically. They’d always be a good laugh, but towards the end I don’t know what happened… He got fired for apparently stealing from the team’s budget. What sucks is that he was doing good at first but once he got fired he took a shitload of footage of Sarmiento, myself and the rest of the team with him out of spite. We never even got to see it… He had so much good skating on those tapes that’ll probably never see the light of day…
Yeah. One of craziest times was when I was supposed to meet him in Calais to get the Ferry to London for that Fish And Chips comp (a street comp organised by Sole Tech). When he showed up he had no money to pay for our food or the hotel because he’d spent all the budget on weed in Amsterdam, so I ended up paying for my TM’s food, accommodation, beers and weed, haha. Oh yeah and his ticket home! I actually won some money at the comp so I wasn’t completely fucked but I never got any of that money back…
Surely he got fired after that incident?
I actually don’t think it’s necessarily that incident that did it… Anyway after that they had a hard time finding someone for the position and even ended up offering me the job.
You didn’t take it though did you?
No, I was still travelling and filming too much to take on those kinds of responsibilities. They did ask me to help them choose between two possible candidates though: it was between Hans Classens and this guy called Oualid who was Tom Penny’s “carer”. I’m not sure why but I told them to go for Hans. The ironic thing is that one of the first things he did when he got the job was kick me off the team… Actually no, he kicked off Max Genin first (even though Max was super young and absolutely killing it), then me.
For fuck’s sake. And when did the Nike money stop coming?
About two years ago.
How have you been surviving since?
I’d saved up a bit of money but I’ve pretty much gone through that now… I need to get a job. I’d like to do something in skating as it’s something I know really well but we’ll see, inchallah.
Two years of living just off savings you made from skating? That’s impressive, even in Barca. For how long have you been out there?
Yes but Barcelona is a little bit cheaper. Although it has been getting a bit more expensive in recent years, especially rent and stuff, but yeah I’ve been living there for 14 years. Just like William Phan and Vincent Bressol except Vince just left for Paris (where he had a job offer). William is still here though, it’s just a mission to see him !
Fuck, what happened to William Phan?
It’s complicated… When he started falling off Flo (Marfaing) and I really tried to get him back on it. He had the gift. We kept telling him “it’s easy for you, all you have to do is film a few lines and people will be stoked. Nobody expects you to jump down stairs or hubbas…” We’ve tried getting him out again recently but haven’t had much luck either.
I think he works for a computer center. He also makes sick hip-hop beats in his free time… I’m sure he skates a little outside his house when he walks the dog…
To be honest I find it incredible that after 14 years of living in Barca, going through all the shit you mentioned above you still find the desire to go out and skate/film everyday…
I guess I just love skateboarding. I can’t imagine ever leaving it behind me, even if in the very near future I have to get a job.
You must have quite a lot for the Hélas video by now right?
I’ve got a few things… Obviously you always want to get more though.
Well I hope this desire to “get more” stays with you forever. Thanks for your time Luypa. I’ll see you soon.